ERIC Identifier: ED304635
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: Loesch, Larry C.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.
Assessing Counselor Performance. Highlights: An ERIC/CAPS
Assessment of counselor performance is frequently discussed in professional
counseling literature, yet it remains a topic that includes numerous significant
issues and few points of agreement. This digest describes some of those major
issues and offers recommendations for effective assessment of counselor
NEED FOR ASSESSING COUNSELOR PERFORMANCE
The need for
assessing counselor performance, although it has not received much specific
attention, is evident for several reasons. Counseling usually helps people but
also can harm them, for example, through inappropriate counselor-client pairings
or through counselor incompetence. Counselor performance assessment is necessary
to facilitate good counselor-client matches and/or to remedy incompetence.
Assessment of counselor performance thus is inextricably linked to and needed
for protection of the public's welfare.
Counselor certification and licensure also are intended to protect the
public's welfare. Possession of an academic degree in a counseling specialty is
one common credentialing criterion, but academic credentials do not necessarily
indicate counseling competence (Hogan, 1980). Therefore, effective assessment of
counselor performance is needed in counselor credentialing processes as well.
This need for assessment of counselor performance also relates to the
counseling profession itself. A profession evolves positively only when its
members continue to improve their functioning. Such development in the
counseling profession depends upon having effective methods of evaluating common
and innovative ways of functioning. Counselor performance assessment thus has
the potential to improve the counseling profession.
AREAS OF ASSESSMENT IN COUNSELOR PERFORMANCE
areas related to effective counselor performance have been investigated. The
first is counselor characteristics, the study of which is based on the belief
that "good" counselors have unique and identifiable personal characteristics,
and that if identified, those characteristics can be used as counselor trainee
selection criteria. This line of reasoning or investigation generally has not
proved fruitful. However, it has continued because of the recognition that
clients react differentially to counselor characteristics (sometimes
irrespective of the counselor's skills) and that those reactions are important
components of counseling outcomes. Today, the study of counselor characteristics
is refocused and is intended to facilitate "matching" of counselors and clients.
Many counselor characteristics are being investigated; however, Hiebert (1984)
has suggested this effort would be better invested in defending the worth of
Counselor communication skills have been a second area of extensive study.
Verbal communication skills have been examined far more than nonverbal skills,
but both are important components of effective counselor performance. Because
effective communication is at the heart of counseling, assessment of counselors'
communication skills is a primary means of assessing counselor performance.
Although key indicators of counselor performance, counseling outcomes have
been investigated even less than either of the other areas. This is due to major
difficulties in determining significant outcomes as well as in obtaining data
from clients after counseling has ended. Nonetheless, the assessment of
counseling outcomes is essential for fully effective assessment of counselor
METHODS OF ASSESSMENT
The assessment of counselor
performance includes both subjective and objective processes, with the former
far more common. Subjective evaluations of counselor performance include the use
of rating forms, judgments of counselors' actual counseling activities, and
global judgments by supervisors.
Instruments for assessing counselor performance range from highly subjective
instruments that often are quickly created and at best have some degree of face
validity, to those that have measurable, empirically established psychometric
properties. Two of the latter have found particular favor in the counseling
profession--the Counselor Evaluation Inventory and the Counselor Rating Form.
Each has been shown to be effective for evaluating counselor performance
(Biersner, Bunde, Doucette, & Culwell, 1981; Dorn & Jereb, 1985).
Moreover, they are suitable for use by different types of persons who might
evaluate counselor performance (e.g., clients, counselors, or supervisors).
Rating forms have the decided advantage of being structured, efficient means of
gathering assessment data.
Assessment of performance during counseling is usually accomplished through
review of audio or video tape excerpts. Review of taped excerpts has the
advantage of allowing assessment (usually through ratings of skills shown) of
actual counselor performance, but it has the disadvantage of inefficiency. There
also is much debate about the number and length of excerpts needed for valid
evaluations (Lecomte & Bernstein, 1981).
Counselor performance assessments based on supervisors' judgments are
becoming more common because of their use in counselor credentialing processes.
Unfortunately, such judgments are often clouded by perceptions of the person (as
opposed to performance) and hesitancy to give negative evaluations. Subjective,
global supervisor evaluations are not particularly effective indicators of
counselors' performance levels.
Objective assessments are based on indicators of client behavior change, and
data from these provide the strongest indications of counselor performance
effectiveness. Unfortunately, counseling impacts infrequently are specified in
terms of behavior change, with the result that few good examples of this type of
counselor performance assessment exist. In addition, there is some evidence to
indicate that subjective and objective measures of counselor performance yield
unrelated results (Alexander & Wilkins, 1982).
ASSESSORS OF COUNSELOR PERFORMANCE
Counselors and their
peers, supervisors, administrators, and clients generally are those who assess
counselor performance. Counselor self-assessments are common, but probably most
useful to counselors themselves (Eldridge, 1981). Because of high subjectivity,
self-assessments generally do not have broad utilitarian value. Peer evaluations
of counselors also are used frequently, but the competence of peers to make
valid assessments is a significant issue in their use. Supervisors are generally
deemed competent to assess counselor performance, but often use criteria
different from those of other assessors (Butcher & Scofield, 1984). For
example, supervisors often are interested in levels of skills demonstrated,
whereas administrators are usually interested in accountable outcomes.
Clients are the group most frequently asked to assess counselor performance,
but their evaluations also have limitations. They may not be aware of
appropriate evaluation criteria, focus only upon general satisfaction, or resist
making negative evaluations of counselors. Nonetheless, as counseling service
consumers, their evaluations are important.
TIME OF ASSESSMENT
Assessments of counselor performance may
be made during counselors' preservice training, immediately after counseling, or
as long-term follow-up. The vast majority of such assessments are made during
training, sometimes to screen out incompetent trainees. More frequently,
however, performance assessments made during training are formative in nature,
intended to help trainees achieve required levels of competence before
Assessments of counselor practitioner performance are usually made for
accountability purposes and therefore are summative in nature. Although the need
for counselor accountability often has been stressed, that need apparently has
not prompted much counseling practitioner performance assessment.
Long-term follow-up assessments of counselor performance are rare, probably
because of difficulties in obtaining data from clients long after counseling has
ended. However, such data are needed to determine if counseling has lasting
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR COUNSELOR PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT
professional literature suggests that more effective assessments of counselor
performance can be achieved through the following:
-- Greater emphasis on client behavior change indicators to
provide stronger data for counselor accountability.
-- Use of multiple assessments, including both subjective and
objective procedures, to provide more comprehensive information on
the impacts of counseling.
-- Further development of instruments used to assess counselor
performance to facilitate gathering of data that is theortically and
-- More frequent assessment of counseling practitioner
performance, including long-term follow-up studies, to provide more
data on the "real world" functioning of counselors.
These improvements are needed because effective assessment of counselor
performance is essential to further enhancement of the counseling profession and
to protection of the public's welfare.
Alexander, E. R., & Wilkins, R. D. (1982). Performance rating validity:
The relationship of objective and subjective measures of performance. Group and
Organization Studies, 7(4), 485-496. (EJ 275 977)
Biersner, R. J., Bunde, G. R.,
Doucette, R. E., & Culwell, C. W. (1981). Counselor evaluation inventory:
Replication of factor structure on a military sample. Measurement and Evaluation
in Guidance, 13(4), 223-228. (EJ 240 149)
Butcher, E., & Scofield, M. E.
(1984). The use of a standardized simulation and process tracing for studying
clinical problem-solving competence. Counselor Education and Supervision, 24(1),
70-84. (EJ 309 590)
Dorn, F. J., & Jereb, R. (1985). Enhancing the usability
of the counselor rating form for researchers and practitioners. Measurement and
Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 18(1), 12-16. (EJ 318 001)
W. D. (1981). Evaluation of clinical practice: Forms of communication by which
counselors receive self-evaluation information. Journal of Clinical Psychology,
37(4), 897-902. (EJ 253 586)
Hiebert, B. (1984). Counselor effectiveness: An
instructional approach. Personnel and Guidance Journal, 62(10), 597-601. (EJ 302
Hogan, D. B. (1980, September). Defining what a competent psychotherapist
does: Problems and prospects. Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the
American Psychological Association, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (ED 201 929)
Lecomte, C., & Bernstein, B. L. (1981, August). A comparative study of
sampling procedures in counseling process research. Paper presented at the
Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Los Angeles, CA.
(ED 214 039)